• What exactly are "noun compounds"?
  • Is it possible to use any words to construct a noun compound?
  • How we can distinguish between a noun compound and an adjective compound?
  • 1
    Your noun compound is one example of what's more often called a compound noun. In the standard version, compound is "natural" adjective (as with compound interest, compound fractures) modifying the actual "head noun" noun. But in your version, noun is used as a "noun adjunct" (noun used adverbially) modifying compound used as a noun (as in Oxygen is an element, water is a compound). A "compound noun" is any idiomatically-established combination of two or more words used collectively as a noun (possibly collapsed into a single word, or hyphenated). Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 14:26
  • 1
    ...a "compound adjective" is much the same thing, but you might find this explanation useful. The difference between a compound noun and a compound adjective is essentially the same as the difference between a noun and an adjective, except in both cases we're talking about an established combination of two or more words rather than a single word. Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 14:30
  • A compound word is always a single word, sometimes hyphenated, but never written as two separate words, the latter being a syntactic construction as opposed to a compound. If I have time later, I'll post a more detailed answer for you.
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 18:47

2 Answers 2


I think you mean compound nouns.

What are compound nouns?
A compound noun is a noun formed from two or more words. Sometimes they form a whole new word, for example, toothpaste (tooth+paste). Sometimes they are hyphenated, for example, dry-cleaning. Other compound nouns, such as Hot Dog are sometimes written as two separate words but are still a compound noun.

Is it possible to use any words to construct a noun compound?
Yes and no. Accepted, widely used compound words are usually in the dictionary in their own right. You can't just make new words and expect them to enter the dictionary. However, new compound words are formed all the time. For example, in 2019 the word "peoplekind" was added to some dictionaries. Also, it is quite common for English speakers to form a compound noun which is easily understood, yet does not need to make its way into the dictionary. For example, if you described someone as a "garage-dweller", it would convey the idea that the person spends a lot of their time in a garage.

How we can distinguish between a noun compound and an adjective compound?
It would be no different from distinguishing between any regular noun and adjective. The noun in a sentence is normally the subject or the object. Use a dictionary to look up words you don't know, and it will tell you if they are a noun or an adjective.


Compound noun

According to EnglishClub.com, a noun compound, better known as a compound noun is a noun made of two words:

  • noun + noun (football)
  • adjective + noun (blackboard)
  • verb + noun (playground)
  • preposition + noun (underground)
  • noun + adjective (mouthful)
  • noun + verb (sunset)
  • verb + preposition (sign-in)

There are three forms for compound nouns:

  1. open or spaced - space between words (tennis shoe)
  2. hyphenated - hyphen between words (six-pack)
  3. closed or solid - no space or hyphen between words (bedroom)

Compound adjective

According to Grammar Monster, a compound adjective is a single adjective made up of more than one word. The words in a compound adjective are usually grouped together using hyphens to show it is a single adjective.

Example of a compound adjective: cross-country competition. In this case, "cross-country" is a compound adjective that modifies the noun "competition." A compound adjective can be made of different words, which may or may not be adjectives themselves, for example in a 12-page document, "12-page" is a compound adjective, but neither "12" nor "page" alone are adjectives.

How can you distinguish between compound nouns and compound adjectives?

You can judge this from the context of the sentence in which they appear. A compound noun is always a noun, which can act as an object or subject. A compound is an adjective only when it modifies a noun.

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